On the 8th of November, I posted about the huge Muslim demonstration in Morocco against terrorism. I wrote then:
It looks to me like the Moroccan man and woman in the street are not about to let democracy be choked off. They are sending a message, not just to Zarqawi and the murderous thugs of Al Qaeda. Not just to the ordinary people of Iraq. But to democracies and people who struggle for democracy across the world.
It's the first time I've seen an Islamic demonstration that's made my spirits soar in that way. But I'm sure it won't be the last.
In fact, it was only three days before there was another such demonstration by Muslims against terrorism, smaller, but no less passionate. Via Lisa's On the Face I picked up this post by Lina, a young Jordanian university student, about the demonstration that followed the terrorist attack on the hotels in Amman claimed by supporters of Al Qaeda's terror-in-Iraq branch.
Lina and I exchanged a couple of emails and she generously gave me permission to download and comment on some her photos. She was also kind enough to supply me with translations of the slogans I particularly noticed.
Here's a photo of two more of the sort of young woman I think very rarely gets involved in demonstrations:
I was very struck by the young woman wearing the bandanna, because slogan-covered bandanas are usually a marker of the most extremist demonstrators. They are typical of Hamas supporters celebrating suicide terrorism. But Lina tells me that the slogan the young woman here sports says No to Terrorism.
Then there's this photo of a young boy devising and writing his own slogan. I spend quite a lot of my time observing or trying to help teachers who struggle to get teenage boys interested in any sort of writing. So this to me is as significant of something as exceptional and authentic as is the involvement of the attractive young women:
And this is the completed banner:
Lina says it says
No to Terror, Down with Terror and Zarqawi
And here's another image of an attractive young woman, who doesn't look like the usual sort of demonstration supporter. What strikes me so much about this image is the obvious care she's put into making her own banner, with carefully marker-pen coloured fills of handsome-looking Arabic calligraphy. I wondered if she could be a teacher ....
Lina's translation reveals this young woman's eloquently expressed and angry rejection of what the terrorists stand for:
Where will you escape from the response of anger?
There's another attractive young woman holding up her end of this rather conventional-looking banner:
This one says Yes to the moderate and tolerant Islam
Now by contrast, here's an image that is much more typical of what we think of as Arab street demonstrations. It's a couple of young men in a car, one brandishing flags. But the slogan on the window is beautifully handwritten caligraphy. And the car is a Mercedes, though it's hardly a recent model
Lina says the slogan is Jordan First. Your head will remain high, my country.
What does all this add up to? Am I being foolishly naive in being heartened and encouraged about the possibility of democracy in the Middle East by these images?
On BBC Radio 4, I heard dismissive commentary about this demonstration. An Arabic-speaking commentator said that such demonstrations were typical of those organized by the regime. That they would be populated by people given a break from work, released from school or office for the day by what is after all a dictatorship. Well, that may be true, and I may be completely wrong. But these people don't look at all like those being given a day off to trudge out in support of King Abdullah.
Lina pointed me in the direction of a fellow Jordanian blogger who had photographed demonstrators and translated their slogans here. There are nine photographs on the page I've linked to. The one that interests me most is the second one down, yet another spontaneously hand written slogan, by an older woman in impeccably Islamic dress. It says
We are the Muslims…So who are you…..You undertakers of death and ruin
By contrast, there are some obviously organized slogans and banners, and is it just a coincidence that they are borne aloft by .....men in suits. I find most interesting the fifth one down, which is photographed in front of posing serried ranks of middle aged men. And it's much more the sort of ritual political anti-US, anti-Israel stuff we've been used to from the stereotypical Arab street. The slogan says:
Zionist terrorism in Palestine = American Terrorism in Iraq = Terrorism in Amman
So of course, that slogan's blaming Israel for the terrorist bombs set off by the organization run by Jordanian Al Zarwqawi, Al Qaeda's outsourced operation leader in Iraq. Am I surprised to find that this slogan and the men who literally stand behind it are the Jordanian Engineers Association? No, because, it seems to me to be typical of the way in which traditional support of the Palestinian Liberation Organization has been organized-- by control of unions and professional organizations.
And there was no shortage of blame-Israel variants like this. Norm drew attention to these statements by Jordanians who think it's fine to do terrorist murders in Iraq, but not in Jordan, and whose contempt for Jews is not concealed:
I am not ashamed of what his [Zarqawi's] group is doing fighting the US occupation of Iraq, but killing civilians, killing Muslims here in Jordan is shaming."
In Zarqa, Munder Moomeni, a 38-year-old former soldier who lives next to Zarqawi's house, 13 Ramzi Street, described his former neighbour as "a bastard".
"By killing Jordanians here in Jordan, civilian Jordanians going to a wedding, they did something that not even a Jew would do," he said.
But what's significant for me is not the voices of those who are only too predictable in their comments and reactions.
I also said in my 8th November post that
when you see glamorous young women enthusiastically at the front of spontaneous mass protests, you know you are in the presence of freedom and democracy on the march.
Because rent-a-crowd protestors and even run of the mill political activists just don't look like that.
And glamorous young women only expend their energies doing street protests on those incredibly rare occasions when a passionate realization that freedom is worth fighting for sweeps away all the normal things they'd be doing. Like shopping,or hanging out in cafes
Well, I've no idea what Lina looks like-- though from her way of writing, the cool comments in her personal profile and the sophistication of her blog site, I'd imagine her to be a rather stylish individual. But the passion with which she writes of why she gets involved in the street demonstration that followed the bombings is unmistakably what I was writing about: a passion against terrorism and for freedom and democracy. Just read this:
I have a lump in my throat and a knot up my tummy! I am angry! And I'm tired of being glued to the TV flipping between Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiyya, and JTV for drop-by-drop updates on the explosions!!
I heard the news around the same time everyone else did, and felt like someone punched me really hard… telephones started ringing in the house, because we live in Rabieh, close to where the third explosion took place at the Days Inn hotel, and people where asking us if we were ok! We hadn’t heard anything and things seemed quiet outside. A friend of mine lives very close to the third circle and when he was talking to me on the phone I could hear sirens from behind him… I don't know how to describe the feeling it gave me, I had chills all over! This can't be happening in Amman, our beloved safe secure Jordan!! And to hear that the explosion in the Radisson SAS happened in a hall where a wedding was taking place, and that most of the injured were people at that party, you just feel disgusted at the cowards who carried out this operation!
As news is slow in coming in, news channels have been talking to political observers and analysts trying to speculate who is behind this and why! Fingers point to Al-Qaeda and Zarqawi! Of course nothing is confirmed but it's no surprise that Jordan has been targeted. When I pose to think about it, I can't help but wonder, what purpose did these explosions serve for those terrorists? So they are anti-US and anti-Israel and they are up against America's war in Iraq and its plans for the Middle East… how exactly does this support their "fight" and help their "cause"? So they hit the tourism in the country, spread fear and shake stability, then what?? So they hit the places that supposedly attract Israelis or Americans or foreigners, and they take innocent lives, what role does this play in their bigger picture if they have one? They are nothing but terrorists. They are such cowards who are tarnishing the name of whatever legitimate resistance to occupation and unjust policies there is out there! Nothing in the world could legitimize this! Well not only are they cowards and liars who do not relate to Islam one bit, they are also utterly stupid… they are not serving their extremism in any way but rather driving everyone in the other direction!
We always hear about explosions in Iraq, Lebanon, and the region, and we seem to have gotten numb and stopped really thinking about it every time, but when it hits home, a few kilometers away from where I'm sitting, when I see pictures of my Amman under attack… I remember how ugly terrorism is!!
You know what? No matter what happens they won't shake or weaken Jordan, but rather make its people more unified and stronger!I feel too emotional at the moment, I want to go sit with the rest of the family in front of the TV… tomorrow has been announced an official holiday, I want us all to go demonstrate in the streets of Amman in solidarity!
God Bless Jordan!
I got this feeling I cannot describe while reading emails from friends in Baghdad, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Gaza, Beirut, and Belfast about the candle vigils that we all organized as the MERYAN; the Middle East Regional Youth Action Network, all synchronized at the same time, in the same spirit, to denounce not only the bombings in Amman, but all the bloodshed, violence, and terrorism that's taking place in our region.
When the bombings took place here in Amman, it was a shock to all MERYANers, mostly because to them Amman was the safe place that made it possible for a group of active youth from Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, as well as Jordan to meet again after they participated in the International Youth Parliament (IYP) in Sydney in July 2004, through the Quaker Service and KAFD. One of the ideas for an action project proposed at the IYP by a Jordanian participant was to set up some kind of a network of active youth in our region. Amman became the meeting point, and it was here last august that the group was expanded, a vision was drafted and it all became more tangible.Our group vision of the MERYAN is a network of young people and youth organizations that starts in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Palestine and seeks to build bridges across all borders that divide our youth, drawing its uniqueness from the diversity of its members that is rooted in their lived realities/experiences. The MERYAN seeks to build and strengthen relations between them and to reach a larger segment of youth.
After the bombings, we all wanted to take some sort of action to express our feelings against the killing of all those innocent civilians in each of our countries, and we decided to hold candle vigils or silent marches at the same time, and to state what we as a youth group completely reject and what values we call for...Around 40 people came, we distributed the statement that all of us in the MERYAN group had drafted together, and explained that while we were standing there at the stairs of the Radisson SAS holding these candles, we were not alone, the same stand with the same statement was taking place in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and Northern Ireland…
It felt beautiful, because most of the young people present there are those whom I've always felt inspired by, proactive, aware, and involved. It was cozy but very genuine and very heartfelt.Most importantly, it felt great to make it happen in such a limited period of time… a reminder that we have the ability to mobilize people and take action if we really believe in it!
We weren't certain our friends in Iraq would be able organize something similar, because of the very difficult situation, so it was amazing to know that they got together in spite of everything, and held a vigil on the rooftop of their NGO; the Iraqi Al-Amal Association.....The group in Beirut got together in front of the Jordanian embassy amidst very tight security measures. Here's a bit of news on what they did on the Petra news Agency website. And here's what our friend Nelly shared with us:
I personally felt all of you today. I felt what a wonderful group of people we are. I felt the presence of every one of you and I felt that what we did was for every one of us, no matter where we are. I felt we were doing this for Palestine, Iraq, Jordan, and of course Lebanon. I kept remembering you all, I was trying to imagine what it would be like if you were with us (physically..) This is our vision…our mission…
In Ramallah MERYANers organized a silent march in which 70 people participated, and in Bethlehem a vigil was held and brought together around 50. The group in Gaza held an event at the Ministry of Culture with a film, a musician playing Oud, candles, a mural to write comments on, and signatures. In Belfast a vigil was organized at the Student Union building near Queen's University, bringing together 30 people, mostly Arab students, one of whom had lost her cousin in the Amman attacks. It was covered by the University Radio, and attended by the president of the student union.
And this last image is the young people of MERYAN in Bethlehem.
My thanks to Lina for making this amazing stuff available.